Girls soccer: Emma Czech, unbeaten Lockport beat Lincoln-Way East in PKs to clinch SWSC Blue

Czech scores goal in regulation and in fifth and final round of shootout for 2-1 win, 5-4 in PKs

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LOCKPORT – It was gut-check time for the Lockport girls soccer team.

But Emma Czech made sure that the Porters remained undefeated.

Czech scored Lockport’s only goal in regulation, and then won the match by scoring in the fifth and final round of the shootout. That gave the host Porters a hard-fought 2-1 win, including 5-4 in penalty kicks over Lincoln-Way East on Saturday morning in a game that decided the SouthWest Suburban Conference Blue Division championship.

With the win, Lockport (21-0, 4-0) continued its undefeated season and captured the SWSC Blue for the second straight season and the fifth time since the conference formed in the fall 2005.

The Griffins (12-5-1, 3-1) gave everything they had and showed that a return trip to state this season still is very much in the cards.

“Lincoln-Way East was hungry and played a great game,” Lockport coach Todd Elkei said. “We both have a chance to do something in the postseason and like what [Lincoln-Way East coach] Mike Murphy said afterward, ‘I hope we see you again since that would be in the state championship.’”

It would be as both teams are on opposite sides of the bracket. There are some tough matchups ahead for them but don’t count either one out.

One can never count the Porters out with a player like Czech in the mix.

“Emma has the skill but also the dedication in herself,” Elkei said. “She’s one of the best all-around soccer players I’ve ever coached.”

So with the game on the line, Czech, a senior defender who takes the restart kicks for the Porters, wanted to be in a position to step up.

“We talked about having Yurida Hernandez take the fifth-round kick,” Czech said of the PK’s. “But with her being a freshman, we didn’t want to put that pressure on her. So, being a senior, I said I’d move to the last spot.”

She did, but first she was in a position to win it thanks to a great save by Liz Rock. With the PK round knotted at 4-4, the junior keeper perfectly timed a dive to her right and caught the ball. Meaning that if the Porters could score, they would win.

“It was so awesome to see the smile on her face when she saved that,” Czech said of Rock. “She’s got so much better this year and I’m super proud of her.

“I knew all I had to do was clutch up for one more. I always practice those PKs, and it felt awesome.”

The Porters all swarmed Czech afterward out of celebration and relief.

“I don’t think about pressure,” Lockport senior defender Meghan Mack said. “It’s just our confidence in ourselves and how we know we have it. We’ve talked about it and we’re not ruining this perfect record.”

Mack, senior Heather Canny, junior Ava Kozak, and Hernandez scored in the first four PK rounds for the Porters.

Shooting first, Lincoln-Way East had tallies by seniors Mia Hedrick and Bre Herlihy, junior Ellie Feigl, and senior Thea Gerfen.

“I’m proud of them,” Murphy said. “Our girls battled them. We were short a couple of players and took the No. 1 team in the state to PKs.”

Czech got the scoring started when she blasted a free kick restart from 50 yards that perfectly went into the upper half of the net just 3:29 into the game.

“That was my fourth goal and they are all off free kicks,” Czech said. “They’ve all been from about the same distance. It’s just knowing that I can bang those home.”

About three minutes later, sophomore Elizabeth Burfeind and Feigl, who are both midfielders, had good opportunities for the Griffins, who placed fourth in the state in Class 3A last year. But the first half ended 1-0.

It looked like it could remain that way, but the Herlihy twins had a different idea. Emily Herlihy, a senior defender, sent a restart in from 40 yards out. Playing her midfield position, Bre Herlihy caught up to it on the left side and was able to put a header on the net with 10:26 to play to tie it at 1-1.

“This was a totally different game than when we played them the first time,” Bre Herlihy said of the Griffins’ 3-0 loss to Lockport on March 21 in the title game of the Reavis Windy Ram City Soccer Classic. “We had better possession and communication and it shows our improvement.

“The goal was off an assist by Emily and that’s our signature play. It happens a lot. Lockport is a great team and this gives us our confidence and shows we can compete against them.”

The Porters had a great opportunity at the end of regulation. Hernandez ripped a shot in front with about 25 seconds left and senior keeper Mattea Arroyo was there to save it but gave up a rebound. Kozak, who is a fellow forward, had a nice shot from the right, but Arroyo was there again for the save.

After a pair of 10-minute overtimes produced no scoring the game went to the shootout.

“It is a good precursor to the playoffs,” said Lockport midfielder Abbey Mack, who is twin sisters with Meghan Mack. “It shows us who we are as a team. We had to go up against adversity and come through.”

The previous seven games were all shutout wins for the Porters, including a 2-0 victory on April 23 that gave Elkei his 400th career win as a girls’ soccer coach in 28 total seasons. He’s been the coach at Lockport since 2011 and now has 405 total victories.

“It’s a testament to the kids and my assistant coaches,” Elkei said of 400. “I also have to thank my family for putting up with me through it all. The wins are just part of having a consistent program with good kids and we want to make them better than when they started.”

With just one game left was it better that the Porters, who have never trailed all year, had a close call now?

“I wanted to see how we would respond if we fell behind,” Elkei said. “But I’ll take how we responded to this and grow from it.”